Part of Luke Bendick's long-term plan for this season was to increase his lefts, which in pole-vault jargon means the number of left-foot steps he needs before taking a leap.

It happened sooner rather than later for the Olentangy Liberty High School boys track and field senior standout, and the results have been exactly what he was hoping for.

After using six lefts throughout his runs during the indoor season and earning a Division I state runner-up finish with a vault of 16 feet on March 2 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Bendick has moved to eight steps back.

He vaulted a career-best 16-9 on April 13 in the Dick Dei Invitational in Wheeling, West Virginia, a performance that was first in last week's area honor roll.

"It kind of depends on preference, but most people that are going for heights like these go far back," Bendick said. "We call it lefts, which is how many times your left foot hits the ground. I was doing six because that was what was working during indoor season. My coach and I were planning on getting to eight or maybe 10 by the end of the (outdoor) season but decided to do it sooner. (The 16-9 happened) because of these new poles I'm using and I also moved back on my run to get more speed, and that's allowed me to get on the bigger poles."

Bendick vaulted 15-4 for what then was his personal best to win last year's Division I regional championship, but he didn't go as high as he hoped at state and finished seventh with a 14-6.

"(Last year's state meet) definitely is something that drives me," he said. "Last year I didn't have the best performance at state. I was seeded second going in and thought if I could improve and do well I could take No. 1, but I had a bad meet. That got me going for this year. It's just important that I can come back and do what I want to do."

Last season, he competed in his first state meet with his older brother, 2018 graduate Andrew Bendick, close by. Andrew finished 10th in the 200 meters and is attending Baylor.

Luke, who will compete at Ohio State, figures to contend for a state title along with a group that could include Vandalia Butler junior Dalton Shepler, who has cleared 16-7. Centerville senior Yariel Soto is the defending state champion after going 15-6 last season.

"(Bendick has) been vaulting well all year, but I still think the best is yet to come," coach Nate Cikach said. "His mindset and attitude has been a major factor in his success. He's a selfless leader that has helped our team come closer together, which in turn drives him to work that much harder. He's put in a lot of time and hard work and trust in our vault coach, Austin Hicks. All of that combined with a belief in himself and we're starting to see the payoff."

Hicks also is the head coach for the Buckeye Pole Vault Academy, which is in Lewis Center and has helped produce former state champions Jake Blankenship of Gahanna and Chris Uhle of Liberty and two-time state runner-up Joey Uhle of Liberty.

Bendick is excited about what he and his teammates can do over the coming weeks. The OCC-Buckeye Division meet begins Wednesday, May 8, at Westerville North.

"I could not be where I'm at without Austin Hicks, who helps me with getting poles and we talk strategy and getting to that next level," Bendick said. "I feel really, really great about how far the team has come this season. I think we've got one of the best teams that's ever come through Liberty. The unity has really developed."

Volleyball team takes steps forward

Things are beginning to round into form for the boys volleyball team.

The Patriots were 7-5 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Buckeye before facing North on April 30, but a challenging schedule early on played a role in their struggle to stay above .500.

They lost to Mount Vernon and Gahanna, which were ranked fourth and sixth, respectively, in last week's Division I state poll, as well as defending Division II state champion St. Charles.

Liberty's league loss was 25-18, 25-18, 12-25, 25-23 on April 18 to Olentangy, which is the defending OCC-Buckeye champion.

In addition, senior middle hitter Llwyatt Hofer and sophomore middle hitter Cole Young began the season late after helping the boys basketball team reach a state semifinal.

Hofer has been among the team leaders in kills along with junior outside hitter Nick Irelan.

"As the season progresses, we've gotten more comfortable," Hofer said. "We've played a lot of good teams, the best competition we've played since I've been here. We're kind of young but we've still got a lot of guys that played last year, so we've got experience and youth that we can improve on. We can still get better."

Liberty avenged a 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 25-27, 15-13 loss to Watterson on April 9 by beating the Eagles 25-19, 25-23, 25-23 on April 25.

Senior outside hitter Rithvik Potluri, junior setter Sean McCabe and junior libero Jacob Myers have been other key contributors, according to coach Dave Hale.

Boys lacrosse team battling for title

The boys lacrosse team was 10-4 overall and 5-0 in the OCC-Buckeye before facing Olentangy on May 1 and closes the league schedule May 10 at home against New Albany.

The Eagles were 4-1 in the league before facing Big Walnut on April 30, and Olentangy was 5-0 before facing Liberty.

The Patriots play host to defending Division I state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier on Thursday, May 2.

On April 26, Liberty beat McMurray (Pennsylvania) Peters Township 13-2 as Mason Spaulding had four goals, Tyson Chapman scored three and Sam McCormack added two while Adam Blind made eight saves.

Baseball team tries to stay in title race

After winning the OCC-Buckeye by three games last season, the baseball team put itself behind early in this year's race by losing to Orange 2-0 on April 5 and 8-7 on April 8.

The Patriots' hopes stayed afloat as they won their next eight in league play, as they were 15-5 overall and 8-2 in the league after beating Olentangy 8-1 on April 29. Liberty then played its series finale against Orange on May 1 and has four additional league games remaining.

On April 26, Liberty beat Olentangy 3-0 as Ben Billings threw a six-hitter, striking out eight and walking one. Mitchell Okuley went 2-for-2 with two walks and Jack Metzger, Craig Lutwen and Justin Nelson each had one RBI.

Through 19 games, Okuley was batting .469 with 12 RBI and 17 runs, and Brennan Rowe was hitting .400 with 11 RBI. Billings was 4-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 30 strikeouts, and Metzger was 3-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 36 strikeouts.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, softball, boys tennis, track & field and boys volleyball teams:

BASEBALL

*May 3 -- At Westerville South. The Patriots beat the Wildcats 7-2 on April 10.

May 4 -- Home vs. Pickerington Central

*May 6 -- Home vs. Westerville North. The Patriots beat the Warriors 10-4 on April 15.

*May 8 -- At Westerville Central. The Patriots beat the Warhawks 9-7 on April 22.

BOYS LACROSSE

May 2 -- Home vs. Cincinnati St. Xavier

May 8 -- Home vs. Berlin

GIRLS LACROSSE

May 2 -- At Berlin

May 3 -- Home vs. Medina

May 6 -- At DeSales

SOFTBALL

May 2 -- Home vs. North Union

May 3 -- Home vs. Thomas Worthington

May 8 -- Home vs. 18th-seeded Newark in second round of Division I district tournament. The Patriots are the eighth seed.

BOYS TENNIS

May 4 -- At Hilliard Davidson

TRACK & FIELD

May 3 -- Delaware County Elite 8 at Orange

May 8, 11 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Westerville North and Davidson

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

*May 2 -- Home vs. Westerville Central. The Patriots beat the Warhawks 25-17, 25-11, 25-19 on April 16.

May 4 -- At St. Charles

*May 8 -- At Olentangy. The Patriots lost to the Braves 25-18, 25-18, 12-25, 25-23 on April 18.

*League contest